Butler Falls In League Championship Game

Butler Falls In League Championship Game

CHICAGO, ILL. -- Butler battled rain, cold and UIC ace Devin Miller, but came up on the short of a 5-3 score in the title game of the 2011 Horizon League Softball Championship, which finally wrapped up at Loyola Softball Park on Sunday, May 15.  The outcome left the Bulldogs one game short of their first-ever league softball championship.

Miller, named the Pitcher of the Championship, held the Bulldogs to three runs on eight hits to lead her team to its first league title since 2004.  She did surrender solo home runs to Erin Falkenberry and Alyssa Coleman in the game, but she came up with big pitches when her team needed them most.

The final game, which the Bulldogs forced with a dramatic 1-0 victory over the Flames on Jenny Esparza’s walk-off home run in the first championship game on Saturday (May 14), took nearly 23 hours to complete.  The game started on Saturday afternoon, and the Flames grabbed a 5-2 lead.  But rain halted play, and the game wasn’t resumed until mid-afternoon on a cold and wet Sunday.

Butler quickly trimmed UIC’s lead to two runs on Coleman’s home run to center field in the sixth inning, and the Bulldogs had the tying run at the plate after a single by Erin Jackson.  But Miller retired Meaghan Sullivan on a fly ball to left field to end the inning.

The Bulldogs also had the tying run at the plate in the seventh inning, but Miller stuck out Jessica Huey and retired Esparza on a pop-up to shortstop to give her team the title.

Butler jumped to a 1-0 lead in the first inning on a bases-loaded single by Esparza, and Falkenberry extended the margin to 2-0 in the third with a shot over the center field fence.  But the Flames countered with a single run in the third inning and four runs in the rain-soaked fourth.  Tournament MVP Ashley Hewett’s two-run double provided the eventual difference.

Esparza, who was named to the All-Tournament team following the final game, fell to 18-10 on the season, but still wound up matching her own Butler single season record for victories.  She set a league tournament record with 60 strikeouts in her six games, and she boosted her Butler career strikeouts record to 575.

Jackson, who joined Esparza on the All-Tournament team, had two of Butler’s eight hits in the game, and she tied Esparza for a team-high eight hits in the tournament.  Falkenberry’s home run boosted her season total to a Butler record 13.  Huey, who batted .333 during the championship, was the third Butler player named to the All-Tournament squad.

The Bulldogs, who reached the Horizon League championship game for just the second time in school history, wound up with a 32-24 season record.  The 32 wins are the second-highest single season total in Butler softball history.

Photos by Steve Woltmann